Print Edition - 2014-11-15  |  On Saturday

Untapped potential

  • The Rara lake trail already has all it needs to draw the crowds. It just needs the communities to come together and manage tourism
- DEWAN RAI
Untapped potential

Nov 14, 2014-

A fairly wide trail starts from Jumla’s district headquarters,  Khalanga, a bustling town on the banks of the Tila River. “Don’t go any further if you don’t reach Chere Chaur by three,” a local tells me, pointing his finger towards a distant meadow right at the bottom of the Danphe Pass. He warns that the next village is half a day away from the Chaur, which itself is half a day away from the bazaar. In between, there are no rest stops, no tea houses, and no water taps to replenish our water bottles. Just vast swathes of uninhabited meadows lush in brown alpine grasses.

At Chere Chaur, a lone house, painted with limestone, functions as a teahouse and a makeshift lodge. The one-storied house is so ordinary, with its rickety low wooden fences, that we mistake it for a private dwelling and move on, missing our chance to have a warm cup of herbal tea. Lack of signboards giving directions to Rara Lake and lack of human movement along the trail mean that we subsequently lose our way and end up at Khola Chaur, where we stay the night at the house of a villager.

The night-stay was cheap, Rs 500 for two people for room and food. But the room was cold, the floor dusty and the mattress mouldy. And this is true with almost every accommodation along the trail, even at places like Chautha and Murmi, where half a dozen ordinary houses double as hotels and teahouses. For a backpacker who wants to just enjoy the vistas or get upclose with Jumli and Mugali culture, the poor quality of amenities might pose no problem, but any other finicky traveller will be put off.

That should not be the case. With the sprawling Himalayas in the deep backdrop and many of the peaks such as Api Saipal registering heights above 7,000 metres, the Rara trail can pack the same punch as many of the more popular trekking routes around the country. What’s more, unlike in many other trails, Rara Lake itself serves as a definite climax to the hard journey.

The route to Rara Lake, whose potential has not been fully tapped, is full of opportunities, especially for the locals. Many locals tell me along the way that if the trail were to adopt the Annapurna Ciruit model, bringing teahouses and lodges under one umbrella organisation, prescribing uniform rates for rooms and food, and publicising it widely in the domestic and international market, the communities could uplift themselves out of poverty. Murmi, a village thirty minutes away from Rara Lake, could benefit from homestay services, as well. With its houses sharing walls and a series of unusual but artistic ladders outside on the deck, the village offers a unique chance for visitors to experience the way Mugalis live. In fact, many locales with lesser vistas and humbler scenery have already learned to capitalise on the home-stay trend.    

“The Rara region could also benefit with a little help from the government,” says Nanda Prasad Shahi, a local teacher, in whose house I spent a night in Murmi. He wishes the government would replicate the Annapurna Circuit model. Until the National Trust for Nature Conservation, a semi-governmental body, invested in the Annapurna Circuit in 1986, the communities there were just as poor as they had been for centuries. Instead of just constructing four-star hotels in the vicinity of the Lake and having the tourists fly in to Rara National park, as has been proposed, developing the circuit as a tourist destination managed by the locals themselves could empower the communities, the locals say.

Already, they are protesting against the construction of hotels around the lake, saying that such big businesses will pollute the lake and ruin the wilderness. The locals would like to instead manage the trail themselves, but they need to come together for that to happen. A concerted effort as has been proposed by Shahi could do wonders for the region.

The Karnali region is the poorest in the country, with Mugu ranking at the bottom in all indicators—health, economy, education, life expectancy. The locals believe that if tourism can get going in the area, it will not be just the people near the trail who will benefit, but also people in the region as a whole, as the revenue trickles outward.

Published: 15-11-2014 08:52

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